JIAOZI’S NEW CHIC

Once ba­sic fes­ti­val fare, the boiled dumpling finds its way to dis­crim­i­nat­ing kitchens and palates, Ye Jun finds.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Jiaozi restau­rants are be­com­ing more re­fined. That’s the im­pres­sion I get from a few re­cent vis­its to eater­ies that spe­cial­ize in jiaozi, or boiled dumpling. Jiaozi is one of China’s na­tional sta­ples, evolv­ing from a food for im­por­tant oc­ca­sions such as Spring Fes­ti­val to a pop­u­lar snack food in spe­cial­ized restau­rants.

Jiaozi is an all-time clas­sic, with 2,000 years of his­tory. Peo­ple eat it at such lu­nar times as Liqiu, the start of au­tumn, Dongzhi, the start of win­ter, and Sanfu, the hottest pe­riod of sum­mer. So it is fair to say it is a food for all sea­sons.

A jiaozi snack restau­rant once mostly of­fered a big va­ri­ety of dumplings, while serv­ing some sim­ple cold or hot dishes. Dec­o­ra­tion was usu­ally sim­ple, if not a bit shabby.

But a re­cent visit to Yix­uan, a spe­cial­ized jiaozi restau­rant, changed my ex­pec­ta­tions. The restau­rant is beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able. Wait­resses ap­pear in good-look­ing tra­di­tional dresses.

The restau­rant is con­stantly full for din­ner, so we stood in line for 10 min­utes be­fore get­ting seated. A friend who comes of­ten or­dered two fa­vorites — starch noo­dles with se­same paste and cu­cum­ber slices, sour pre­served cab­bage slices boiled with white pork.

The two dishes are typ­i­cal spe­cial­ties of North­east Chi­nese cui­sine, the restau­rant spe­cialty. Other pop­u­lar dishes are soysauce fla­vored pork spine, and a tasty but pricey fish head from Qian­dao Lake.

We or­dered four plates of jiaozi with dif­fer­ent stuff­ing, each at 100 grams, the min­i­mum amount of or­der. “Three del­i­ca­cies with pork” and “co­rian­der with pork” stuff­ing were the best-tast­ing, and leek with pork and pure veg­e­tar­ian stuff­ing were not bad.

Four kinds of jiaozi plus two dishes cost us a to­tal of 100 yuan ($16), which comes to 25 yuan per head, an ex­cel­lent price con­sid­er­ing the pleas­ant en­vi­ron­ment. One com­plaint: While we waited to be seated in the full restau­rant, the wait­staff was a bit slow in pour­ing us some jiaozi soup.

Another time I was sur­prised re­cently by good fla­vor was at Dong­fang Jiaozi­wang, lit­er­ally, “king of jiaozi in the East”.

The jiaozi restau­rant has quite a few branches in Bei­jing, which seems to en­able a fast flow of in­gre­di­ents and ready-made jiaozi. The jiaozi tastes fresh and fla­vor­ful, al­though the stuff­ing looks a bit small com­pared to some other restau­rants.

All the clas­sic stuff­ing com­bi­na­tions are good — pork with leek, egg with leek, and pork with long beans. But zuc­chini with mut­ton tastes fan­tas­tic, and the cold dishes are also re­ally good. Sauteed jiaozi with beef stuff­ing is a nice al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tion­ally boiled dumplings.

Ser­vice is quite proper, too. A meal with all that va­ri­ety of jiaozi and cold dishes cost less than 40 yuan per head.

One place that started the jiaozi restau­rant trend is Tian­jin Bai­jiaoyuan, Tian­jin’s “gar­den of a hun­dred jiaozi”.

The in­tro­duc­tion on its menu says the restau­rant achieved a Guin­ness record for mak­ing 229 kinds of jiaozi. Celebri­ties cap­tured in pho­tos while din­ing here in­clude for­mer US sec­re­tary of state Colin Pow­ell and for­mer first lady Laura Bush.

Al­though some fre­quent visi­tors say the restau­rant’s jiaozi isn’t as good as be­fore, it’s still packed with cus­tomers at lunch. “Three del­i­ca­cies with pork” and pure veg­e­tar­ian stuff­ing taste rather good, while shrimp roe with bean curd, and zuc­chini with mut­ton do not taste as good as Dong­fang Jiaozi­wang’s.

I was sur­prised to find a big plate of braised yel­low croaker, a weekend spe­cial, cost only 28 yuan. There were more than 10 fish — quite de­lec­ta­ble. The house-brewed Gleckes Ger­manstyle beer, with a black and a golden ver­sion, tastes fine, and a big jar costs just 20 yuan.

Apart from jiaozi with a lot of dif­fer­ent stuff­ing, Tian­jin Bai­jiaoyuan of­fers a com­plete se­lec­tion of pop­u­lar Can­tonese dishes and seafood. Its jiaozi is not in­ex­pen­sive. A meal com­plete with dishes, beer and jiaozi can cost up to 100 yuan per head.

I’ve never met a for­eign ex­pat who doesn’t find jiaozi tasty, and Chi­nese have loved it for at least two mil­len­nia.

Many peo­ple still fa­vor clas­sic fill­ings, new com­bi­na­tions such as mack­erel with pork, cu­cum­ber with shrimp, man­tis shrimp and bean curd have plenty of fans, too.

As the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment curbs waste in spend­ing pub­lic funds, rea­son­ably priced jiaozi restau­rants of­fer good value. Af­ter all, here the bill is mostly con­trol­lable, while the qual­ity of food is al­ways re­li­able. Con­tact the writer at yejun@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

PHO­TOS BY YE JUN / CHINA DAILY

Above: Yix­uan Jiaozi Restau­rant’s starch noo­dles with se­same paste and cu­cum­ber slices is a good starter for a meal. Right: Tian­jin Bai­jiaoyuan’s jiaozi with pure veg­e­tar­ian stuff­ing, and braised lit­tle yel­low croaker.

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